Last month my older brother and I planned a long overdue backpacking weekend up in Yosemite, to retrace some of the steps we took 19 years ago in Tenaya Canyon. It was a fun badly-needed three days of nothing but hiking, camping, and photographing amongst granite and pines.
We spent the first afternoon in thick fog, backpacking our way up a steep granite dome near Olmsted Point, the second day cross-country backpacking down its wide, long arête then navigating down another steep granite wall into Tenaya Canyon. We sat and ate lunch on a granite slope dipping our feet in a small pool of rainwater, and as the afternoon light began to fade, we set off searching for a campsite for our second night out. Working our way through a dense forest and criss-crossing the almost dry Tenaya Creek, we decided to each take a side and see who might find the optimal location to set up camp. After a few minutes my brother yelled out, “this looks like a nice spot”, and I meandered over to inspect it. The campsite was perfect – just 25 feet or so from Tenaya Creek, one flat area next to some pines perfect for a tent, a few logs positioned nicely as chairs, and a round glacial erratic granite boulder with a small fire ring built into the side- ironically the only evidence of a past campsite we found in the canyon, yet easy to overlook.
After setting up camp, building a fire, shooting sunset over Half Dome, and cooking dinner, the stars began to appear at twilight. As we sat cooking apple sausage over the first, I broke out my gear again to see what I might capture that evening. I soon realized the scene I wanted was to include the campfire, the granite boulder, and the stars, but I wasn’t sure which angle would work best. After setting up a few shots moving around the erratic, and settled in on a view that would include the campfire. Understanding exposure well (having written a book on the subject), I knew I’d have to wait for the fire to dwindle down to a small glow in order to have its exposure match the faint glow of ambient light from the stars above.
When that moment came, I mounted my Nikon D800E DSLR onto my Gitzo carbon fiber tripod and Acratech GP ballhead, attached my 12-24mm lens, framed a vertical composition, and began shooting, alternating between ISO 800 all the way up to ISO 3200. The campfire was still too bright, so while waiting patiently I thought of another idea – to use the light from my headlamp to illuminate the area surrounding the boulder, to add depth and dimension to the foreground. Firing my shutter for the long exposure, I would move to the right of the boulder, turn on my headlamp, “paint” the area quickly with light, shut it off, then wait for the exposure to complete. With each frame, I fine-tuned my light painting to make it look as natural and subtle as possible. This was the result:
The orange glow of a campfire blazing against the granite boulder glacier erratic, below the star-filled night sky including The Milky Way, Pleiades (bottom right- also known as Seven Sisters, Messier object 45 or M45, an open star cluster), Cassiopeia (upper middle left – a constellation in the northern sky), and the Andromeda Galaxy (upper right – a spiral galaxy approximately 2.5 million light-years from Earth, also known as Messier 31, M31, or NGC 224). I exposed this scene with my lens set at 18mm, in manual mode, spot metering, for 15.0 seconds using f/4.0 at ISO 1600.
Granite is my all-time favorite type of rock. There is an energy it gives off that makes me feel so happy. If I had a previous life, I must have slept on it staring up at the stars because it always feels like home. Fittingly, granite is an igneous rock, which means “born from fire”, red hot fluid rock that cooled slowly allowing crystals to form within it. So maybe a mimicked nature’s creation with my own creation.
I call this image my ode to Stephen Lyman. Stephen was a painter who works I greatly admire. I recall falling in love with his romantic rugged scenes of the Sierra, small campfires glowing at twilight surrounded by granite landscapes. Sadly he died what he loved doing, off on another trek to find new inspiration, his body recovered from a rocky ledge near the Cathedral Rocks area of Yosemite National Park in 1996. An experienced outdoorsman, he was only 38. If you’d like to view some of his great works of art, visit: http://lymanprints.com/
I look forward to making a very large print and matting and framing it for our living room. Hopefully the photo will sell well in my image library, maybe as a magazine cover someday, definitely as a fine art print. Regardless, it’s one I’m proud to have captured, and a memory with my brother I’ll never forget.
For more on experiences in Tenaya Canyon, check out my September blog post talking about our trip 19 years ago: http://www.the-photoguru.blogspot.com/#!http://the-photoguru.blogspot.com/2012/09/into-tenaya-canyons-abyss.html